Trip Report: Portugal
Review: JetBlue Even More Space SFO – JFK
Review: Airspace Lounge
Review: TAP Economy JFK – LIS
WithLocals: Lisbon 10 Tastings Food Tour
Day Trip: Lisbon to Sintra
Lisbon: 3 Day Itinerary
Review: Azor Hotel
I absolutely loved my time in the Azores, a set of volcanic islands off the coast of Portugal. The food was delicious, the landscape felt so unique, and there were many times when I felt like we had the whole island to ourselves.
From Lisbon, you can fly direct to Ponta Delgada airport (PDL) on Azores Airlines, Ryanair, or TAP Portugal. My one-way flight on Ryanair LIS-PDL was $61, booked three months in advance.
From the US, you can fly directly to PDL from Boston and Providence on Azores Airlines and from JFK on Delta (starting May 24, 2018). The flight from JFK is just under 6 hours, making it shorter than the flight to SFO and an ideal extended weekend getaway.
There are plenty of rental car companies in Sao Miguel. We rented from Ilha Verde because they were the only company with a large selection of automatic transmission cars. The total cost for our four day rental was 239,10€ (though if you get a manual transmission car it’s much cheaper).
Though we booked a compact car, we were given a Renault Captur crossover, which we were happy with. My only complaint is that they are a really popular rental car company, so whenever a flight lands in PDL, the lines at the airport get really long.
By the way, we ran into cows several times while driving around the island. Definitely not something I see every day :p
Where to Stay
Stay in Ponta Delgada — there are plenty of accommodation and dining options and the location is central, which is convenient for exploring the island. We started each day with breakfast at our hotel, ended each day with some sort of pool or hot spring, then headed back to the hotel to shower before eating dinner in Ponta Delgada (except Day 1, when we had Cozido).
I stayed at and previously reviewd the Azor Hotel.
Day 1 – Furnas (Blue Pins)
We arrived in Ponta Delgada around noon. After picking up our rental car and checking into our hotel, we headed to a local cheese shop to get a snack for the road.
We spent a few hours in Terra Nostra Park, which is a huge landscaped garden. You could spend hours walking the various trails and exploring the peaceful scenery.
The park has warm and hot natural thermal pools, which are a fun way to unwind after exploring the gardens.
After a quick shower at the park, we headed to the Caldeira in Furnas.
The caldera is considered “very active” and it helped cook our dinner!
This was really special! For dinner, we had the Cozido das Caldeiras, which is a traditional stew that is cooked on the caldeira. Our hotel made the reservation for us and requested the dish. Anthony Bourdain eats the cozido on his show No Reservations, when he visits the Azores.
It was soooo good. Max said it was his favorite dish on the entire trip 🙂
Day 2 – Sete Cidades (Green Pins)
We drove to the west side of the island, towards Sete Cidades, stopping for any miradouros along the way. Sete Cidades are two lakes, where one appears green and the other blue. The folklore is that a pair of star-crossed lovers (one with green eyes, the other with blue eyes) could not be together, and each lake was formed from their tears.
Miradouro da Vista do Rei
This miradouro offers excellent views of the twin lakes. The island has crazy microclimates — if it’s cloudy, just wait 15 minutes and it may clear up. I managed to take this picture right before the clouds came in.
Miradouro da Vista do Rei is also the site of an abandoned hotel that you can explore. Kind of creepy and cool at the same time.
Both of these miradouros offer great views of the twin lakes:
This is a beautiful lookout over the lakes and the ocean.
Finally, we made our way down to where the twin lakes meet.
Sete Cidades is also the name of the small nearby town, where there are a couple restaurants. We had a relaxing lunch, then headed to Ferraria.
At Ferraria, there’s a natural pool inlet where the warm volcanic water meets the cold Atlantic ocean. We parked at Termas de Ferraria (which is a spa), then followed the signs for “piscina” (pool).
The pool has a few lines of rope going across it, which you can hold onto when the waves come in and leave the inlet. There’s a ladder from the rocks into the pool, but there’s no path. You’ll have to walk among the rocks so I recommend bringing water shoes (which we forgot to bring).
After swimming in the pool, we headed back to the hotel for a shower and walked into Ponta Delgada for dinner.
Day 3 – Miradouro and Chill (Red Pins)
We started our day at Cha Gorreana. We spent about half an hour walking around the factory and the grounds. This is the oldest and only tea plantation in Europe, and the tea makes a great gift to bring back!
We spent an hour exploring this beautiful park, which has waterfalls, watermills, and gardens.
After the park, we spent a couple hours driving around and hitting up miradouros (viewpoints).
This viewpoint has a beautiful park and great views of the ocean.
This viewpoint has a good view of the lighthouse.
We ended our day with a visit to the best thermal baths on the island!
There are several baths, each with different temperatures.
For dinner, we headed to Azores Grill, which is a DIY grill place (similar to KBBQ).
Day 4 – Last Day! (Yellow Pins)
On our last day, we had a bit of a late start due to a fire alarm and evacuation at our hotel.
At Lagoa do Congro, we did a short hike from the parking area to the lake. We pretty much had the whole area to ourselves.
We stopped in Vila Franca do Campo for these famous pastries. The recipe was refined by nuns in the convent; now the pastries are made by local families who keep the recipe a secret. They sell these in boxes at PDL airport, so I bought a box to bring back to the office to share with my coworkers.
This viewpoint offers a great view of Lagoa do Fogo.
We ended our day of sightseeing with a visit to another set of hot springs.
For our last dinner in the Azores, we made a reservation at Taberna Acor. The wait is usually pretty long, but we stopped by the restaurant the night before and we were able to get one of the last reservations.
We ordered a bottle of wine and a ton of food — cheese plate, sausage, pineapple, pork…
The Azores is so beautiful and unique. I hope that other people are able to experience the beauty of these islands.